Research on the provenance of 18 objects from Benin

Funding area:
Colonial contexts
Funding recipient:
Übersee-Museum Bremen
Federal state:
Type of project:
short-term project

The Übersee-Museum Bremen (ÜM) has 18 objects in its collection that are attributable to the former Kingdom of Benin. Until now, there has been no complete reconstruction of the respective chains of provenance. The fact that not all Benin objects represented in European museum collections today originate from the British punitive expedition of 1897, but were in some cases produced for sale before, but increasingly after, complicates the situation.

Within the project, the individual chains of provenance were to be reconstructed with the aim of substantiating the acute suspicions and also examining the other objects for a possible context of injustice. This will create a scientifically sound basis for restitution if Nigeria files a claim.

The project is part of the Declaration on the Handling of Benin Bronzes in German Museums and Institutions of 29 April 2021. On the basis of this declaration, it sees itself as a contributor to coming to terms with Germanys colonial past and underlines this coming to terms as an important social task and a central field of cultural policy action.

The objects described were already the subject of a study in the past, which dealt with the history of the collection of the African holdings of the Übersee-Museum. However, the research for this was largely limited to the archival records of the Übersee-Museum itself, which is why the search had to be continued in external museums and archives.

Although the provenance cannot usually be traced back to the origin, it is clear from the sources that generally only a vanishingly small number of objects had left Benin or entered the trade before 1897. In the majority of cases, it is also unlikely that the objects in Bremen were made after the conquest in 1897, as they were either acquired very shortly after that date, or are of a type that was not maintained for many years after the destruction of the city of Benin, or, as objects of sacred origin, could not have been intended for trade.

(c) Übersee-Museum Bremen